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Federal Government marshals top digital talent to agriculture & trade transformation

by Jack Le Guay •
Free resource

Hand in hand with the $37.5 million allocated to the Simplified Trade System (STS) in the 2021-22 Budget, Randall Brugeaud will leave his CEO role at the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) to chair the Simplified Trade System Taskforce. A change that supports the budget’s clear agenda to “review and modernise Australian trade processes and ICT systems.”

His move was announced jointly by Dan Tehan, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and Stuart Robert, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, on Friday 18 June 2021.

The joint media release said that Brugeaud’s Taskforce would work with the “Simplified Trade System Industry Advisory Council, the Deregulation Taskforce, other border agencies, and Australian businesses to review and improve regulations and trade systems.”

The Deregulation Taskforce promotes the Morrison Government’s key Deregulation Agenda and has been associated with the government’s adoption of RegTech.

RegTech initiatives aimed at promoting digitisation of the economy heavily featured in the post-COVID 2020-21 Budget brought down in November 2021.

Ben Morton, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Assistant Minister to the Minister for the Public Service, oversees the Deregulation Taskforce.

The Deregulation Taskforce’s current priority areas are to “reduce the costs from excise and excise-equivalent goods regimes” and “reduce overlapping regulatory burdens”.

Brugeaud’s peer at the Deregulation Taskforce is David Parker, who chairs the Regulator Leadership Cohort, set up by the Secretaries Board to “support the Australian Government’s deregulation agenda–sharing expertise to help promote and embed regulator best practice”.

As an indication of how tightly the deregulation agenda is fixed on agriculture and trade, Parker was a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. Here he was responsible for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and the Water, Export, Trade and Market Access divisions.

On the digital transformation side, Jordan Hatch has recently been appointed Assistant Secretary, Digital Strategy at the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE). Hatch previously had a stint with the British Department for International Trade in 2017, “shaping the technology approach for creating new trade systems and services” in preparation for Brexit.

He was then Deputy Chief Digital Officer at Austrade in 2018 and “responsible for creating Austrade’s first digital strategy, delivering the agency’s first digital initiatives, and building foundational digital standards and capability”.

The Productivity Commission has revealed that the past decade has seen Australia’s worst economic growth in 60 years due to both the global slowdown and the end of the nation’s mining investment boom. These drivers are focusing Australia’s effort to free up the regulatory burden on its trade systems and digitise as many aspects as possible.

The use of digital technologies is a way to open Australia to new markets, build productivity, and improve the terms of trade and build the digital economy is a centrepiece of the 2021-22 budget.

Creating new systems facilitated by cloud platforms and promoting technology capability and uptake in the private sector is necessary to boost productivity and restructure the economy.

The October 2020 announcement of the Permissions Capability platform, to be delivered by Home Affairs, has been part of the Government’s response to ensure a return to travel as part of the pandemic recovery. The Permissions Capability will be used to springboard other capabilities such as trade permits across government which will fall under the purview of the new Taskforce.

Digital Economy & 2021-22 Budget

The $37.5 million allocated to the STS to “review and modernise Australian trade processes and ICT systems” will be shared between the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade), Home Affairs and DAWE.

Other initiatives of relevance in the Budget include $80.9 million over four years for biosecurity screening and cargo risk assessment, ICT and analytics upgrades, and the creation of the National Freight Data Hub ($16.5 million over four years).

Other initiatives as part of the Agriculture 2030 package of funding to increase agricultural output to $100 billion in five years can also be considered drivers of the STS.

The STS is listed as part of the Digital Economy Strategy, released alongside the Budget.

The STS is one of the vital trade and international engagement policies intended to promote “future workforce capability”. Defence Export and International Cyber and Critical Tech Engagement are also listed as part of the Digital Economy Strategy.

Australia is not alone in funding trade system modernisation and digital economy initiatives. Other countries have also moved to modernise their trade and export systems.

One of the first was the United Kingdom, which had to completely revamp its border, customs and trade systems and processes to prepare for its exit from the European Union.

HM Revenue & Customs is the largest procurer of ICT in the UK Civil Service of the past four years, at $6.65 billion (£3.6 billion) or 45 per cent of their total agency spend.

The European Union’s $3.16 trillion (€2 trillion) 2021-2027 long-term budget and associated NextGenerationEU stimulus fund promotes digitalisation of customs, trade and border management systems.

Who will lead the DTA?

Brugeaud has been CEO at the DTA for three years, becoming the first permanent CEO appointee following the DTA’s evolution from the previous Digital Transformation Office (DTO).

Recent Machinery of Government changes has seen the agency return to PM&C, with Stuart Robert remaining as the Minister responsible.

Brugeaud recently appeared at Senate Budget Estimates and confirmed changes to the agency’s directions and funding now that it is no longer part of Services Australia.

Given the DTA’s responsibilities for the Trusted Digital Identity Framework, WofG use-cases for the Permissions Capability Platform, and responsibilities for digital transformation, it is likely that the DTA will work closely with the STS Taskforce.

The Ministerial media release confirmed that Brugeaud would continue to lead the APS Digital Professions stream.

The media release states that Brugeaud is leaving his role at the DTA as of 1 July, suggesting that a permanent appointment as CEO will be necessary. Brugeaud’s two direct reports at the DTA are Peter Alexander as the Deputy CEO and Chief Operating Officer and Scott Cass-Dunbar, the agency’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Whilst either of these may take the role on an interim basis, it is highly likely that a selection process will occur, which would bring in the chance of an external appointment. Whichever of these scenarios play out; the DTA is in for a period of change at a time when it has significant deliverables.

Jordan Hatch and Peter Alexander will be guests at Intermedium’s 2021-22 Federal Budget Briefing in Canberra on 1 July 2021. Tickets are available here.

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